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Mark Twain, Tony Romo and Esteeming Others


     In an article in The Mississippian Magazine (March 1922), William Faulkner lambasted Mark Twain as a "hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven surefire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy."

     Notwithstanding his own undeniable literary prowess, why in the world Faulkner would have felt obliged to demean Twain's is beyond comprehension. Such smug dismissiveness of the talents of another is unbecoming to say the least. Beyond that our mean spirited criticisms of others do not make them look bad. They make us look bad. One must wonder what was going on inside Faulkner to make him write such a thing. I suspect it was a projected fear of being compared with Mark Twain's formidable place in the pantheon of American writers. Perhaps I should say, enviable place, for envy is at the back of most such petty attacks on the accomplishments of others.

     Being measured against the greats who have gone before us may not be the pleasantest sensation in the world, but if we approach it with humility and a sense of humor it can actually make for an opportunity to shine. For some years I preached at Mt. Paran Church of God in tandem with one of the pulpit greats of all time, Dr. Paul Walker. Intimidating? You betcha!

     One day another minister asked me in what I felt was a conspiratorial tone, "Do you think Walker is as great a preacher as they say?"


     "Oh, no," I answered. "Absolutely not! The rest of us preach. Dr. Walker does something else. The likes of us cannot do what he does."

     Currently I preach at the great Free Chapel Church in tandem with one of today's great preachers, Jentezen Franklin. Recently a friend asked how that felt. Here's exactly what I said. "No one can do that with a fragile ego. The way, the only way you can relax and enjoy that is to rejoice in the unique gift which is Jentezen's, celebrate it authentically, reject envy and never, ever attempt to imitate him."

     I am confident that physicists of no mean intellect cringe to hear it said of themselves, “Well, he's smart enough but he's certainly no Einstein.” I suppose that is understandable but it is peevish to respond by saying, “Oh, Einstein was vastly over-rated, and anyway, his theories were not all that original.”

     The ministry has its own share of envious hearts. The temptation to minimize the talents, ministries and anointing of other Christian leaders is nothing more or less than our old high school insecurities popping out like the pimples of long lost youth. Johnny can play a bit of football, I suppose, for whatever that's worth, but he's stupid at algebra so there.  Nonny nonny boo boo.

     Deriding the abilities of others, refusing to celebrate or even recognize their accomplishments, we, not they, suffer diminution in the eyes of others. People are not as easily fooled as we think. They know insecurity and envy when they see it.

     Faulkner's sniveling critique of Mark Twain is long forgot, and Twain's fame remains undiminished. Faulkner made himself look bad, not Twain. I am not suggesting Faulkner's opinion of Twain was disingenuous. He may well have considered Twain a "hack." One is better off praising a hack than deriding a genius.

     How humble, how much more appealing than Faulkner's were Ernest Hemingway's comments on Twain's talent.

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain call Huckleberry  Finn. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."

     Presumably not even Hemingway's own. When we modestly exalt another's talents, or celebrate another's leadership, we are not less for it but greater. St. Paul said, "Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." Philippians 2:3, KJV

     Injured in the first game of the 2016 campaign, Dallas quarterback, Tony Romo watched his rookie backup, Dak Prescott, set the field aflame. The youngster reeled off eight straight wins before Romo could return. Graciously acknowledging Prescott's hard-earned right to continue in leadership, Romo added, "Ultimately it's about the team. It's what we've preached our entire lives."

     We in the ministry would do well to honor our colleagues rather than ignore or attack them. As Romo said, “It's what we've preached our entire lives.”

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